Thursday, January 28, 2010

Asturias, a A Place in my Heart

In writing these entries, I have usually kept to places where I have been. In creating one's own memories, a life is slowly but inexorably formed. What happens when the memories written about belong to someone else? After some thinking on this, I decided that although these memories belonged to someone else originally, they were passed on to me as part of my upbringing so in essence, they have become mine and, as such, I accept them and pass them on. Perhaps as a small shrine to the person who allowed me into his memories.

Whenever I actually do sit down in front of this old computer and try to concentrate on one issue or one topic or one consecutive set of events to the ones which preceded the writing I am about to try and create, too many images and too many moments come to life in my mind. I really don’t know how many people are following these mental meanderings; I know of at least 10-12 people who tell me they do. In the end, this is mostly written to cleanse my memories. Because of too many wrong turns along the way, my communication with my own children has been curtailed. Again, who’s right? Don’t really know. In a way, this may be a way for them to eventually get to know me a little more. That is, if any of them may actually get to read these blogs sometime.

This brings me back to today and now. Where to go? Spain comes to my mind; it is a country considered to be our (Cuba’s) cultural mother country and, actually in my case, both my family lines (mother’s and father’s) do come from this beautiful country. My mother’s from Asturias in the north, and my father’s from the southern region, near Seville. I truly believe that the only reason I actually exist, is that both lines ended up in Cuba, consummating their togetherness there. In Spain, in those times, this North-South marriage would have been almost impossible.

I have had the opportunity to visit Spain several times over the years, while on business trips. Most of the time spent there has been divided between the two primary cities: Madrid and Barcelona and their surrounding areas. Although there are many instances and moments from these trips that could be (and probably will eventually be) the source for one of these postcards, I think I will actually try to write about a place where I have not set foot yet, except in my mind and during my childhood years.

In order to do this, we will go back to Cienfuegos, Cuba, circa 1951-55. As in most medium and larger size cities in Cuba, there was a “Centro Gallego” in the center of town. These centers were to enhance the memories and the presence of the men from the Province of Galicia (Northwest corner of Spain, above Portugal) a fishing, sea faring people who probably made up the true majority of immigrants from Spain who have covered the world. These centers were very beautiful, ornate buildings. On the first floor they would usually have a huge hall which doubled as a ballroom during festivities, with marble floors and gilded doorways and walls. On the second floor there would be the offices and other assorted rooms.

My grandfather did not come from Galicia, he came from The Principality of Asturias. So, I really never "officially" set foot in one of these centers. We belonged to the “other” group and had our own, separate commemorative celebrations. In my hometown The Asturian Club, in those days, was yet to be built (we were a much smaller, less wealthy community) but there was –as a property and for the future building(s)- a very large tract of land on the outskirts of the city near the airport, where there was a very large gazebo like structure in the center sitting, as an overlord would, ruling its demesnes. This was the only roof in the property, so the get-togethers would rely heavily on the weather forecast for the day.

The outings were the physical and fun part, but the underlying spiritual and emotional aspect was the most important. Through my grandfather’s imagination, his memories and stories, I traveled in Asturias long before the “virtual world” of the computers were created. He empowered my own imagination as I visited the green mountain top belt of northern Spain, where I smelled the pine forests and the fresh mountain air. I walked along the small rivers which dot the mountainsides and there were moments when I could feel the cold water touch my feet. I entered, holding his hand, the Grotto of Our Lady of Covadongas, the Patron Virgin Mother of Asturias. In his stories, along with the books he would get for me, I learned about how in the 800’s, it was from Asturias that those who liberated Spain from the more than 5 centuries of Arab domination came. They never gave up and, in part thanks to those mountains, were able to hide, grow and hold their own over the centuries. Still today, as I write this, my eyes close and his voice is in my mind, telling me about the beauty of his motherland.

-“Rafelito… no te ensucies” -“Rafelito, don’t get dirty” would say my grandmother, while I and many friends would be running in the dirt, chasing each other and ending up usually in a head first slide in the grass. But, we knew she was busy with her cup of “sidra” which is Asturias regional beverage; a hard apple cider which is truly unique so her admonition was just a reaction to our running and noise, and would not go much further than the already proffered warning. The music, with the "gaiteros" (The gaita, or bagpipes, are the folkloric instruments in Asturias) would be blaring everywhere, while the smells from the cooking pots would permeate the air; the shrimp and flounder, the pork and, best of all, the Asturian paella. We would continue to run around as we all kept our eyes open since we were very much aware that, as children, we were not allowed to drink the sidra which, although mild, was still an alcoholic drink. We also knew that most adults would start a glass and then get sidetracked with all that was going on, leaving the glass half full and, guess what? It was time to sneak into the gazebo and steal a sip or two before running out again. This beverage is another happy memory. I have been able to buy the same brand here in the States (well, Miami) and enjoyed sipping it. But it has never tasted, as an adult, as good as I remember those stolen sips would taste as a child.

I look forward to one day being able to physically walk the mountains in Asturias, to visit the countryside my granddad so loved. The rivers and small streams which help the green grass and the forest trees grow; to visit the city of Avilés, which over the years swallowed his little town of birth. Alberto Cortés, an Argentinean singer, sings a song about a grandfather who came from Galicia. How, much later in life, the grandson was able to visit that countryside which his grandfather talked about during his childhood, and how he would see his spirit in every tree, every stream and in every village he visited.

I hope I will be able to do the same; for I would like to remember my grandfather to his beloved Asturias since those living memories will have, sadly, ended with me. Most of all, I hope to be able to visit the Grotto of Our Lady of Covadongas and, there, light a small candle in memory of one of her sons who, even though he was never able to return, never forgot her.

A mixed postcard from Asturias, a place I have yet to visit.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lisbon, Summer 2001; Part Two.

One of the -I think- too many places where I have spent sometimes "forced" time over the last 12 years. Lisbon is an old heart city; after too many years under a political dictatorship, it just began to crawl into modern urbanity late in the 1980's. The city has a lot of character and it is very traditional, holding on to its customs and culture which is not really a bad thing to do. There are many places I did not get to see or visit, I hope to be back with the time and the resources for a more thorough visit. It is really a worth while place to get to know.

My search for this wonderful food oasis started and grew more feverish by the minute. I could not wait to be seated at a table and to order… how would you say rice and black beans in Portuguese? How about ground beef “picadillo”? My, My… they were sure to have pictures on the menu there… I went into circles and noticed that this restaurant, along with several others, was on Neptune Avenue.

My hunger was getting stronger and I had visions of dancing with “La Negra Tomasa” (this was the name of the restaurant –hence the caricature like figure) while listening to a cha-cha or a rumba, all the time sipping a rum and coke… By now it was getting to be past 3pm and my stomach was following me some three meters behind, dragging on the asphalt and making noises of complaint and dissent.

“Where can this Neptune Avenue be?” I asked myself, as my turns into several little corners failed to produce the wanted sight. Suddenly, I had a revelation: “Oh My God!!” “Neptune, the God of the Sea” – “You fool (said loudly to myself) “where can Neptune Avenue be, if not on the water’s edge?”

With this new insight, I made to the river’s edge like a dog after a favorite bone. And then, there it was! Neptune Avenue was nothing but a walkway on pontoons, each restaurant having a little entryway, like a small bridge into nirvana. “There she is!” I almost shouted. For sure enough, there, at the end of the walkway, was the biggest of all the entry bridges, leading right into the arms of that beautiful big, black, cigar chomping lady. With her promises of tropical nectars and tropical flavors to be had. I almost ran the rest of the way and coming to the door, I pulled to open this promised paradise… and the doors did not open; I pulled harder this time, bordering on the desperation that only an unrequited love affair… or desperate hunger can bring about. Nothing. Then, my eyes became focused on the center of the door I was trying to pull off its hinges, where a small white paper note simply said: “We will reopen at 9:00 for dinner”.

OH NO!!! “Where are you Tomasa?” I cried silently, “Where are your promised dishes and drinks?” “Where are the rice, the black beans, the picadillo and bananas?” My mouth went dry and my stomach dropped to the floor, this time with an almost audible PLOP!. I kept looking around, hoping to find someone I could bribe and perhaps get a little taste of what might have been… All I found was a copy of the menu, pasted to the other door. Yes, there was rice, there were beans and beef to be had. Yuca, bananas and all… then I looked at the price list and it was my heart that skipped a few beats!!! There was no way I could have enjoyed their fruits, even if the doors had been wide open. At those prices I would choke with every bite!!

“I know” I reasoned, as my head began to slowly clear. “This is an international fair and this restaurant must belong to the Cuban government… This is just a way to get more funds for their propaganda” then, in a sad and forced conclusion: “I’m glad it was already closed”. You could argue it was just another version of the fox and the “green/sour” grapes routine. And... what could I say when you’d be absolutely right?

I walked back to the center of the park, on a pathway bordering the river. There were schools of nice looking fish which followed me, swimming right next to the walkway, probably used to being fed by the people who usually walked here... Little did these fish know I was frying them slowly in my mind, tasting their cooked meat on a bed of rice, showered with lemon juice.

I eventually ended up having a late lunch at that internationally renowned double arches restaurant (local version) where, at least, I could have a Spanish ham sandwich, French fries and a beer. All this while listening to an often off-key Portuguese “gaucho”, singing about Argentina and its beautiful pampas.

I know, it didn’t make any sense to me either.

Anyway, a postcard from a late summer Saturday in Lisbon.

Be Well!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lisbon, Summer 2001

Part One... part Two tomorrow...

The hotel room seemed to be getting smaller and smaller every day. Today was another Saturday and if memory served, this would be the fourth Saturday spent in this place, waiting for something to happen. The long history of what had brought me to Lisbon, a city I had not known before, started back in 1997 and had brought me here via long, similar stays in Zurich, New York City, London, and other places. That story probably merits a place of its own, but only once it is completely finished. For now, it will suffice to know that my arrival in Lisbon had been some 4 weeks before and since then, my daily routine consisted of breakfast, telephone calls, internet café visits, local street walking, and a late lunch at the hotel cafeteria, where the cost of the food was covered by my hotel room fee, and an occasional visit and/or trip with the friend who had received me at the airport and brought me to the hotel. He was part of the reason for my wait, since some of the issues pending had to be resolved by him and these were nowhere close to being so resolved. Every day there was a new reason for further waiting, and every day the relatively meager resources I had dwindled further.

This particular Saturday I simply refused to stay at the hotel or to just walk the streets. Besides, there are only so many times you can visit a shopping center –even one with piano music being played and with many very nice stores to see- when there is no money to be spent there. The streets of Lisbon are fairly empty on summer weekends since most everyone will head out to the beaches, to their summer places, or to family homes in the countryside. Also, it was fairly hot and not conducive to much aimless walking. My knowledge of the city was really reduced to the immediate 4 square miles or so (within walking and not getting lost distance), and I knew there was much more to see in this very old and beautiful capital city.

I asked the lady at the front desk to direct me to where I could go on an inexpensive Saturday day trip, a place to which I could take the beautiful metro system (inexpensive and very efficient) and she mentioned the International Park. This is on the outskirts of town and had been built to host an international festival some years before, having remained as an attraction–like park on the shore of the river. There were usually ongoing shows, there were also exhibits to see and many restaurants, including several “fast food” (read: cheap) ones. So, with her map in hand I headed to the nearest metro station and took the appropriate line and knew that, at the final stop, there would be the park.

The trip took about 35 minutes and 6 stops. When we were at the park, all who were left on the train went out so I, very intelligently, followed suit and found myself at the entrance to the park. One very nice surprise which had not been part of the information: it was free to enter. This meant I could actually use some of the funds I had with me and buy lunch there. But this would be later on. After I sort of triangulated the station’s location, so as to be able to find it on the way back, I shouldered my backpack and headed into the park, getting swallowed by the steady stream of people going in.

Sure enough, there were many things to see and some concerts going on. The maritime museum, not as big as some of the ones we have here, but nice and tidy, with many examples of the local fish and water fauna. The concert at the bandshell was being offered by a local rock/punk band and I remember there were some tunes I recognized as being Portuguese renditions of some of the international hits of the moment. They weren’t bad and it made for an entertaining hour or so. It was also very entertaining to see their fans, wearing their own version of the then current punkish outfits more commonly seen in the streets of London. As “theater” goes, it was fun to watch all this while listening to the music.

As the small crowd began to break up and the smaller groups now went their different ways, I headed further into the park, looking to find a place to park my bones and get something to eat and drink. The boards advertising the different restaurants began to spring up and, much to my surprise, there was the outline of what must be their concept of a Caribbean black woman: big, round, flowery mu-mu dressed black woman, with a towel like turban on her head and smoking a cigar in all her splendor; here she was inviting me to eat some “Cuban food”. WOW!! My mouth began to salivate and my stomach to rumble. I would go to the ends of this here park, but I would find this restaurant!! Rice… black beans… ground beef… fried sweet bananas… flan… Oh My!! My diet, since coming to this city, had centered on the every day fare which is mainly fish based; once in a while I would go to the mall’s cafeteria and by some sort of wrap. But these really did not have the taste to satisfy someone raised in Cuba and living in Miami…

More tomorrow...

Be Well!

Friday, January 22, 2010

From Puerto Rico, With Love...

The tides shift once again. In retrospect, it seems that these turn on their own time and sometimes -and only sometimes- these tides of life allow us to think and believe that we have some control over what is going on. Perhaps it is better this way; otherwise, we could not blame "circumstances" for whatever ails us.

Around late springtime of 1966, there were some problem clouds brewing around the house. My father, trying to get some potential income to move forward, had teamed up with a partner. Their intent, if my memory serves me right, was to establish a Cuban food restaurant and store somewhere in the metropolitan area. I do not remember where. The long and the short of this story was that not only did the project never get off the ground, but the partner had used funds he should have never used. So, financial clouds came over the household and, whenever financial clouds come over the horizon, an emotional outburst is sure to follow, destroying a lot of personal dams along the way.

This was no different. My earnings were primarily going to school costs and my own expenses, so I could not help much at the house. The end result were some confrontations and my looking for a small apartment where I could park my weary bones at the end of the day or night. I did find a garage apartment in Hato Rey, actually close to the university, and this would do for the time being. Actually, I did not now it then, but this move would definitely have consequences later in the year.

In the meantime, Sheila and I were having a good time. Funny, but the cultural baggage can be very hard to carry at times. Puerto Rico was definitely a full blown latin culture, with all the machismo this implied. Having been brought up by a working mother as well as two working aunts and a very non-domineering grandfather, I was pretty much –even though I loved to go out and party- a person to commit to one partner at a time. So it was interesting when Sheila one day asked me why I did not have affairs with other women. –“People are saying that maybe you don’t like women enough”, she told me one night. It was really weird. If you truly think about this, it does not speak well for the person who was doing the chastising, being she the person who would bear the negative impact of an outside relationship. Actually I did have a couple of “affairs” in those times when we were in the middle of a “separation” but she never knew about them.

One to remember was with a singer for a NYC based orchestra, several years my senior, touring then the San Juan show/cabaret circuit. While the band leader(s) stayed at a main hotel, the entourage stayed with us. I met “Connie from The Bronx” (who, after make up and a fake birthmark on her forehead was put in place, was billed as Krishna, the singer from Calcutta) and she became my nightly partner (except Thursday - Saturday when they were playing) at the Piano bar. She would sing duets with Luis and sometimes I would join in a song or two; we really had a good time. This lasted until the group’s contract expired and had to come back to the States, about 2 months after we had started going out. She actually was willing to break her contract in order to stay and make something out of the relationship; I was far from ready to do so and said this to her in a long conversation. So when the orchestra left for Las Vegas, she left with it. But it was truly good while we were together.

In the summer of ’66 I went to work at a summer camp as a counselor (yeah, me, a summer camp counselor... wanna make an issue out of it??). Amongst all the kids assigned to my group, was “Billy the Kid”. Actually, Billy was a small, thin, dark haired 10 year old who had some issues, coming from a home where there were some problems. It took the better part of the first two weeks but, somehow, we broke the ice and became friends of a sort; he became my assistant with the group. He turned out to be one of those many children who get very little attention at home, for the oh-so-many reasons of which we are all aware. This story had a happy ending; he adjusted well into the group and one day, well into the fall and the early part of the school year, I was at Sears in Hato Rey shopping for some “whatevers”. I heard a child screaming my name, followed by a flash that ended up in my arms. It was Billy, whom I had not seen since camp had ended some 4 weeks before. This was a nice; a “for-the-memory-book-moment” and it made all the summer sacrifices well worth while.

At the beginning of the school year –what was to be my junior year at the Inter- my digs were the apartment I had rented during the summer, after the decision was made to leave my father’s house. This change in life brought me to another one of those “crucial” decision moments, except that I –as usual- did not know this. In the midst of all the little things going on for some time, I had not bothered to put money aside for the full amount of the tuition which would be needed. My pride could (should) have been put aside and I should have gone to my father for a loan which, I’m sure, he would have found the way to extend to me. But having left the nest in a semi-huff and all that, my pride was bigger than I and the decision was made to go into the semester on a part time basis, rather than full time. Again, no consultation with school counselors for me, that was for those who did not know what they wanted… right? Only variable that was not put into the mix, was the date, what was going on at the time and the true consequences of doing what I did.

So, I registered mid September of 1966 as a part time student, not realizing that the only thing that had kept me from the military draft had been my full time student status. In those Viet Nam build up days all universities had to report to the military draft board on the students’ status, especially those who were on –or had shifted to- a part time basis. On October 12, I received a call from my father.

–“You have an official letter here” he said and, after a few seconds, he added

-“it seems like some sort of notification”.

When the envelope was opened I realized that, once again, my world was shifting.

Uncle Sam Wants You… You are hereby required to come to a physical exam at Fort Brooke, San Juan on…. and there was a date and time which did not give me many options. On that morning, my exam consisted of a knee flex, a vision check and body temperature check.

“You are fit for service” said the doctor, after a very cursory look (short of being dead and stiff or blind, all qualified as fit for service then) he added

–“Be ready to report to Fort Brooke for service in the US Armed Forces on October 20th at 10:00am”

This gave me about one week to get my things in order. Sheila put together a “send off” party which was an all night affair at a private room at “El Convento” in Old San Juan, the premier night club restaurant of the time. A select group of friends was invited and the idea was that they would take me directly from there to the reporting place on the following morning...

So it was, on the morning of October 20th , 1966 I became one of a good size group who left the beautiful island of Puerto Rico on a journey which would be at least life changing for all and for some, a journey without return.

Be Well…

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Last 12 Months in PR; Part I

Computer problems, internet access jitters, etc... I have tried to be "good" and write a little each day but... In any event, we will continue on.

If the first 12 months could be put under the headings of Lynette, university, radio and modeling, then the last 12 months would fall under the headings of Sheila, university, hotels (work, that is), summer camp counselor, late night revelries around the corner (I’ll explain that one) and, eventually, Uncle Sam’s Army.
At the beginning of my second year at the University, I met Sheila. She was pretty, was going to the “Big U” or University of P.R. and had come to our “lowly” (then) campus to visit a friend who was attending Inter. Black hair and big, dark brown eyes. The rest was not bad either. She was talking to some friends (one of whom I knew) and I just walked over and introduced myself to her and the rest of the group. It was definitely good to feel pretty sure about yourself, for whatever misguided reason that may have been.
-“And what is your name?” I asked her.
-“Who wants to know?” she answered.
-“The good looking guy behind you”, I countered, without batting an eyelash.
And as she, without thinking much, turned to her right, I moved on her left and positioned myself behind her. When she came around and found herself looking straight into my eyes, she burst out laughing.
-“I guess you win this one” she said, -“my name is Sheila”.
-“I am Rafael, and am desperately in need of someone who can show me the real PR”… “Do you think you are game?”
The first time I asked her out after this exchange (roughly one hour), there was a degree of hesitancy on her part. After prodding and pushing, it came out that she was “going out” with a guy named Julio, who was a close by neighbor and whom she had known for many years. Back then it was OK for the guy to run around (even expected), but it was not well accepted if the female half of the relationship did something considered “not nice”. So, it took some persuasion on my part and a couple of times of meeting at the Inter before she took the plunge and ditched her relationship with her then boyfriend.
At that point an up-down, good-bad, happy-sad relationship was born. She was one of three siblings, one brother and one other sister. They were a good, loving family with internal issues with which to contend, same as any other family on this earth. We got along well, and eventually I even got to meet Julio. I know… I know…No contest!! Actually, he was not a bad guy; unfortunately, it became the always known, tried and true factor versus the uncharted possibilities, and curiosity won out. Nice way of putting it, no?
Since my leaving the radio station, I had taken up some odd jobs, especially in the area of translation and writing English letters and documents. Also, at the University, we (the English class group) had started, under the aegis of our teacher, a small dramatic reading class. Our professor, whose name escapes me now, was from Madrid and I guess that dramatic reading was the literati rage there –or so he said. It was fun, and we started putting out weekly readings for anyone who wanted to come. It was a lot of fun and, little did I know it, but it prepared me for later radio work and for much of the sales management and training seminars that eventually became my work.
A friend of mine worked at a small Kosher hotel on the beach area in San Juan, and he told me that they were looking for front desk managers (clerks with a fancy name) so I went to this hotel (long since gone, I believe) and applied for the job, without knowing what was really in store. This was a hotel that catered to NYC guests, with probably 99.9% coming from the Jewish community in Brooklyn. The hotel had an in-residence Rabbi, as well as a synagogue and the accepted separate Kosher kitchens, dairy restaurant on the top floor and meat dishes coming out of the kitchen/restaurant on the second floor. No bar, no music and no drinks anywhere in the hotel. Please understand that this was then pretty new to me. I had had very little contact with Jews prior to this, since the Jewish community in Cuba was small and I believe it was mostly in Havana, and in Richland we knew there was a fairly small community then but they kept pretty much to themselves.
I would think that if you are an avowed member of a specific religious/cultural community, Jewish in this case, you would be happy to come on your vacation to a hotel which accommodated the rules of your community. Boy, was I wrong!! Many guests came to me (I had the late night shift during the week) trying to find a way to get away from what they called this “oppression”. Their usual complaint? –“I paid a lot of money and traveled all this distance just to get away from this!!!”… There was little I could do to break the rules; everything that was done, was supervised by the Rabbi. All I could tell them, at least food-wise, was to order through room service whatever they wanted from the different restaurants and eat in their rooms, at their leisure. And if it was music and entertainment they wanted, most any other hotel up and down the street could provide this. In the end, my tenure lasted about 3 months at this hotel; it became a daily tightrope act and, at age 20, I did not see a need to become an unwanted champion for a cause that wasn’t even my cause.
As a result, my eagerly developing hotel management craft shifted over to serve at La Rada Hotel, a new apart-hotel which had just opened a few blocks down. Best features? A great beef restaurant and a cozy piano bar just around the corner, which conveniently opened at the same time my shift ended (11pm). This is what I referred to, at the beginning, under the concept of “revelries around the corner”. You must understand that having an appropriate night life was a very important part of the cultural development for a 20 year old… Right?
Besides, if one had to discuss Kafka and his ilk, or the encroaching Viet Nam situation, this was definitely better done after a couple of rounds and a song or two at the piano bar. To top things off, Luis the piano player/crooner, had gotten this particular ongoing “gig” through a recommendation of my father to the owner of the little joint; however full the bar may have been in any given night, there was always a place open for me and whoever was my companion. All in all, a very nice set up and I made the most out of it, while I was there. This was a good semester; perhaps not so good from a GPA point of view, but great otherwise.
More tomorrow... Be Well!

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15th; UNTITLED

Just like sitting and bench pressing, writing is an exercise which needs to be practiced regularly. Ideas do come and go; sometimes that topic which was to be, goes by the wayside as soon as one sits in front of the computer. So be it.

I would like to think there is a degree of creativity in writing. Truly, what the final destination of these pieces might be, other than the great virtual shredder in the sky, I have no idea. It isn’t Pulitzer quality writing (That’s Roberto José Pulitzer, a forgotten Cuban branch cousin to the other one…) and frankly, there are times when it seems to be an exercise in futility. The question is: who cares? Well, it turns out, I do. And it seems that at least another five or so people do as well. So as the words continue to magically appear on this virtual page (remember typewriters? For that matter, paper and pen?) they do give me a degree of satisfaction. After all, just a few years ago, it would be impossible to get “published” for just a few pennies a month. There is much to be said about the virtual world. No editors, no one to tell me how badly expressed my thoughts are, or how that comma is out of place.

I had PR in my mind when this session started. As the title implies, this changed. Again. A lot of bits and pieces of news come in and these keep taking whatever is left of my working mind away from the intended subject.

A young lady, a friend of my daughter, was found dead this past Tuesday. I remember the specific date, for it is the birthday of my older daughter (no, I won’t tell you how old she is…) She was found by her housemates and, as for the cause, there can be several possibilities including a disease history coupled with alcohol problems. It really is not my place to make up any stories or to even think I might know the reason, or reasons for this sad event, since I had not seen the young lady in several years. I pray she is at peace and that her family will also find acceptance and peace without falling into grief and self questioning. This last is something we did not know how to do as growing children, we only learned it as we became parents ourselves.

Sometime in the last few days, my wife and I were complaining to each other (not about each other, mind you) about the fact that we have not taken a vacation as a couple in too long a time. And where, pray tell me, would you like to go or what would you like to do? We were in the midst of discussing the values of a set trip (when you go someplace and stay there for a few days and really enjoy the place) versus a Caribbean or Alaskan Cruise trapped in a gilded, floating cage. My wife is partial to cruises. I am not. While we were commiserating about what we had or had not done, the news about the terrible earthquake in Haiti came over the tubes… well, not really the tubes anymore, but the digital TV.

The pictures that came across the screen were, and continue to be anything but terrible. As days go by, they keep getting worse. People who truly have very little or nothing are being stripped of the only values left to them: their families and their lives.

I am sure we will eventually go on that often delayed vacation, and I am sure my wife’s cruise idea will win out (don’t they always?) but, at that moment of the news coming over and those images spewing out of that screen, the concept of a non taken vacation seems to have very little importance. Once again, we have to remember and be thankful for what we have, and for those things we can enjoy.

Even the delays on an important piece of business my partners and I have been trying to finish for some time now are not that important anymore. I used to get upset at these delays; now, they come and go and they are taken in stride. It will get done and when it does, the fruits will be enjoyable.

But not all news are negative. They never are; we just need to accept there is a balance in life and not concentrate on the negative side, which is something we, as humans, are prone to do. Just talked with my Doctor’s office and the results of my 6 month check up are in: no trace of prostate cancer. I can only say Thank You Father.

Also this afternoon, good news came regarding that piece of business. It looks like next week is the week that will be. That coming through may give me more time to write (not what you wanted to know?).

Did I mention that I will get back to Puerto Rico? No? Well, I promise to and I will sometime over the week end. In the meantime, keep the faith and remember to enjoy what you do have, while you do your best to get what you want.

Be well!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

FATIMA, Summer 2001

Those places we have visited along the way and what moments we have lived are what makes us who we are at present. We can choose to relive the difficult moments and have a heavy load to carry, or we can choose to relive those moments which have been helpful and, perhaps, lessen the load a bit. I choose to do the latter.

It was my intent to continue to write about the PR years, and I will do so presently. However, last night I received a message through FB from a dear friend who lives in Spain and said message was to let us know that over the weekend, she and her husband had visited the grotto at Fatima in Portugal and had lit a candle on our behalf.

This was a very nice gesture, to remember us in this manner, since her own husband has undergone serious CA treatment this past year. However, that is in the past, and so are the post card memories this note brought to me.

Summer 2001. How Do I know it was this summer and no other? I had to go on to Germany after having been in Portugal for almost 4 months, and my arrival in Germany happened to be on 9/11/2001. This is how I know this one; many other dates sometimes get confused since my time was spent all over Europe from 1999 through 2004, in the course of the pursuit of business which -some day- I will put on paper.

I had gone to Lisbon on behalf of another party, trying to tie loose ends together so that a transaction being pursued for some time, would actually come to pass (it didn’t…). In any event, Nuno had picked me up at the airport and taken me to a Days Inn somewhere near the center of town. Lisbon is one of the capitals of Western Europe which has not lost its old flavor trying to pursue modernization. I am not sure this is due to a defined course of action or, simply, to the fact that this beautiful and simple country suffered from a fairly strong and long dictatorship, longer even that its neighbor Spain. Whatever the cause, at that time it was still an old flavor city; quiet, pretty and safe to get around in, as long as one did not get to the lower parts.

We had been waiting (I did a lot of this in many countries back then – still do, but at home now) for a number of people and issues to get cleared and I did a lot of walking and metro tourism during this time. Whatever business I had to do could be done over the phone, and this little appendage was always at my side wherever I was. So, I was free to roam; very frugally, since my working capital was extremely short. I had already spent time at the world fair site (one of the more modern areas in Lisbon) and about which there will be an entry sometime in the future, I’m sure. I knew the different areas around the hotel, and where the cyber-café was at the mall. I was there almost every morning, in order to communicate with the rest of the world, especially my family.

Nuno and I maintained our communication open, and he would come to pick me up once in a while so I would accompany him, especially if he had to meet someone who spoke English. Believe me when I tell you that a protracted waiting game can be extremely frustrating; there were days when there were absolutely no news regarding our issues, and there was no way to get them. We did as best as we could.

-“Rafa – I’m down at the lobby” he said to me over the house phone.

–“What do you have in mind?” I replied.

-“I think I have a special treat for you today; come down, I will be at the car by the front entrance”.

He drove a small car –as most Europeans do- and for my 6’2” frame it was at times uncomfortable (and still is) to be in one of these for a long time, especially over winding roads. However, the prospect of the small car versus the boredom of yet one more day walking the streets of Lisbon (in the summertime these are particularly deserted) finally won out, and I went down to the car. When I asked him about our trip, he would just smile and say -“you’ll like what you will see this morning”… nothing more.

As we went out of Lisbon, we started talking about the school we attended as children and it turned out we both were a product of the Champagnat Schools (Marists). I think he knew I was, I did not know he was. Those who may know these schools, will know they are Marian Schools, dedicated to the Virgin Mother. What does this have to do with this postcard? A lot. As we talked, he drove and told me that he just wanted the company for the drive, since he had to meet a couple of business people; we would have lunch and then I would have some 2 hours on my own, while he concluded his business. We finally arrived at our destination, a small way town which we bypassed in order to get to the country restaurant where we would be meeting the other people. We had lunch, and then he said to me:

-“See across the road, over there?” He pointed to a large church at the far end of a huge plaza and what seemed to be a small chapel like building next to it.

-“Yes, I see it” – “What is it?”

-“That, my friend, is the Grotto of Fatima, where the Mother Virgin appeared to the little children”

I just stared across this wide road and truly felt like being a child again, when we would sing all the Marian songs we learned in school, and would look at the image of the Mother Virgin and feel peace and quiet.

I walked across this expanse and made it to the church, where I paid my respects. However, my heart was truly skipping when I went to the Grotto, where a mass was being said at this precise moment. If my eyes are closed now, what I then felt will come back to me in its full measure. It was like coming home again. All I could think of saying was -“Mother, I knew and loved you as a child, and here I am now an adult”. Then I knew her again. A feeling of peace and content came over me as had not come for a long, too long, a time.

It was a short time spent there but in a way, it was a lifetime. Many years had passed since I had sung those songs at school; many years had passed since I had given myself an opportunity to loose myself in the arms of her spiritual love, as happened at that moment.

Nuno was absolutely right; this was a very special treat and it made me very happy indeed. In fact, he presence has stayed with me since and I hope that it always stays. I had to go on to Germany later on, then back to Portugal until I came back to the States. The chance at a second visit has not presented itself, but I hope it will. In the meantime, that special day, that treat and that beautiful feeling of peace and content is with me.

Post Card from Fatima; Summer 2001

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hato Rey; 1965

These last days have been truly busy and sick. Sometimes I have to remind myself that there are a few who follow this, and for whom (as well as for myself) this is being continued. Thank you for the following.

I am not sure why it has become somewhat of a chore to write about the years spent in Puerto Rico. They were two good years; perhaps the last carefree years of my life (maybe this is why... Next stop is the Army years, and they were not the prettiest). I was single, had a couple of good relationships (not parallel but consequent, for those who may want to be asking that question), did some very interesting work in radio and dramatic art, as well as in hotel (mis)management and in direct sales. And, yes, I did go to school in the middle of this for some 4 semesters. I am sure other things will pop out once I start writing on the subject matter.

So, where to start? In order to end this, I mean… We have already talked about InterAmerican University and my beginning there. That school had nothing to do with what today exists in Rio Piedras as the main campus of a full blown university; I am told it is a beautiful campus and full of hopeful students. That small band of miscreants who attended the schoolhouse in 1964-1966 perhaps had a little to do with its possibility to grow and blossom. Being that the case, I am very proud and happy to have been a card carrying, founding member of that group.

“WVOZ; Your English Language Channel” – “Coming your way from the heart of Hato Rey, Puerto Rico!!”. A friend of mine knew one of the jocks who worked there. He was the afternoon drive time air personality and, when we met, we struck a decent friendship. I started coming almost every day to the station, and ended up helping him out in the process of choosing and preparing the music for his program. In small stations in those days, the “On Air” person did everything. The engineering, the music choices, the reports, including news, which were usually a cutout from the paper or from the teletype (ye gads!! We go that far back???)) and all chit chat which was heard on the air. Actually, doing this last is not as easy as some people may believe. I have heard some uninitiated folks listen to a radio guy on the air and make a comment like –“Oh well, anyone can do that”. I am here to tell you that no, not anyone can do this. A TV personality, who was known as the “King of the Late Night” and always praised for his quickness on air, said about this –“The wittiest and the funniest off-the-cuff remarks, are those which are best rehearsed” His name? Johnny Carson. (If you do not recognize this name, then I am really reaching the wrong group!).

After having met the owner of the station and having made myself somewhat of a fixture on the premises, it came as no surprise to me that when the week end guy quit (or was made to quit, I’m not sure) I was offered the job. Did I take it? Before the lady (the owner was a woman) had finished asking the question, I gave her the answer… -“Of course I will, and when do I start?” –“Tomorrow” she answered.

Well… one thing is to want the job and another is to get it and to have to do it with very little prep time. I have always like radio work; that has been already commented on somewhere in these entries. Yet, it had been some 3 years since my last microphone handling, and the cold feet tried desperately to come in. I was given initially a good slot actually: Saturdays from 10am to 2pm. That is a lot of time to cover. On Saturdays, back then, this was the best time, since people would be out and about in their cars, shopping and listening to the radio. And, even though most people in PR did not necessarily speak English they did, for some reason or another, listen to our station. Especially the younger set, since we played a lot of music which this group wanted to hear.

The studio was on the second floor of a corner house, on one of the main avenues (I’m still trying to remember the name) I think Kennedy Avenue. Just outside, there was a balcony that ran the length of the studio and went around the corner. At times when we were bored out of our skull, we would take the mike out to the balcony and start to shout down (this was live on air, mind you) to the cars which went by. Everyone thought we were nuts (sometimes that included us) but eventually we started to see more traffic on Saturday afternoons, with cars full of young people, shouting back and honking their horn (well, their car’s horns). The bloody drive-bys (no guns, thank you!) became a successful fixture, until we had to stop them at the request of the local police, who were concerned about potential accidents. We then became known as the “Crazy Jocks”.

Probably the high point of this tenure was the on air interview with a young, already successful local voice who brought his talent and his guitar along, and was happy to just talk and sing for a while. He was then a very simple guy and I understand he still is. His name was, and is, Jose Feliciano.

The life span of an “On Air” personality can be compared to that of a summer fly. Short and agitated. By the time I had to get back to school in September (some 5 months after I had taken over the Saturday spots) there had been some changes at the station and I was asked to do the Sat/Sunday nights and, for a live 19 year old, this is tantamount to ask him to enter priesthood and give up the fun times. So, I respectfully declined and gave up my second stint on radio. But it was truly fun while it lasted; my approach was to do what would be fun and what would be interesting to the listener, not necessarily that which was intended by management (it seems I have always had a problem with this).

It was now time to start my second year at Inter and also time to meet Sheila, my soon to be sweetheart. I think that in the beginning it turned out to be more an issue of taking her away from Julio, her then beau, than my having been really taken by her. You can be really stupid at 19… yes, later in life that stupidity is coupled with “sophistication” and it really makes for a bad combination.

More next time…

Be Well!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Late New Year

7 days ago this entry was begun. This was an unplanned break and really due to being a little a little under the weather and pure laziness. Be well and remember that if you once in a while enter the links to something that attracts you from the little ads, it will help extend the life of the blog. Be well...

It is now about 15 minutes to midnight, on this the last day of the Year of the Lord, 2009. Since the sage say that one will spend the new year under the same conditions as the ones in which it is welcome, I guess I will spend some alone time throughout the year. It is just my computer, my phone, the television (One for the ages…Patty Page singing “Tennessee Waltz” – PBS, of course) and me. And yes, a glass of red wine.

By now, most everyone has made a mental list of the things which must be turned to reality sometime over the coming months. These will be made into a somewhat coherent list and duly be recorded as the “Resolutions for the New Year”. About 55% of them are repeat offenders and sort of the needed fill; within the other 45% are the ones that have the better chance at becoming a reality. Anyhow, this has become a yearly ritual, as have the burning of the old negative memories; if not, these may haunt you throughout the year to come. Write on a piece of paper those things you want the New Year deity to take away and burn them and the paper to ashes; that will make them go away. Or, if you prefer and if you live on or near a shoreline, put the same paper on a little floating piece of wood and watch it as the water takes it away. There go your problems, floating down the river or with the tide. I wonder if a swimming pool will do, if you have one and do not live near a shoreline.

There has never been a resolution list in my year ends past and I doubt very much there will be one in year ends to come. But there is always a mental review of what the past year has brought, the mistakes made (usually a larger than fair part of the memories) and those things which have contributed to my growth or betterment. As I sit here (now watching the Tymes do “It’s Wonderful”) and pass review of this past year, it actually comes up shining. No, I have not large amounts of “discretionary” funds to be spent; the place we call home is an apartment in an older home, but in a very nice neighborhood; do not have a car, but do have a dear friend who lets me use his car when he is out of town and, being a long haul driver, he is out a good deal of the time. We have never wanted for food, yet have not had much filet mignon. All these are definitive improvements on the year before, when I was truly down but never, ever, out.

In coming to this town, I had much faith and more hope yet. My life began to rebuild slowly, and when I was accepted by the Veterans Administration for the treatment of the several ailments that were attacking me, my personal health began a recovery road. I have had 3 surgeries in 2009; one minor, one medium and one major. Also, I was given radiation treatment for 9 weeks straight. As a result of these, where I could not walk before without a great amount of duress, pain and pain caused stress I now walk some 3 miles almost every day; I even began to go through the paces of playing some basketball while my grandson was visiting here. Beyond this, my PSA count was at 0.00 at last review. If you or someone close to you has had prostate CA, you know this is what tells you whether or not it is gone. The 0.00 tells us that it is gone, and I just know it will not return.

The word “Faith” was mentioned along the way. This is a very present and strong part of my make up. I have made many mistakes along the way, as life has insisted on happening. The more mistakes are made on my part, the more I come to realize there is a greater One who must be looking out for us dumb ones. It is He who lets me know I am not alone, even when there is no one around me; that I have the strength to make it through anything, even when I am at my weakest. That no matter how many times I fail to believe in my abilities, He continues to believe in me and that even in those times when I do not love myself, He always continues to love and nurture me. Am I going to preach? No, definitely not. This is only my humble testimony and it is freely given, since I have chosen to accept this as fact.

It is now 12:00 noon on the 7th day of January. I promise that this note was started at 11:45pm on New Year’s Eve. I stopped for a moment at 11:59 as I watched “The Ball” fall and announce the arrival of the new baby year and the departure of the “Old Man” year. This got me to thinking that life is a continuum which we insist in dividing into these little pockets of measurable time. Then we can always say that this next pocket will be better, or that such a year was the best. This probably makes the “bad” pockets along the way easier to manage.

Anyway, that momentary break became a 7plus day hiatus, unwilling and unplanned. My health took a turn into making me feel bad enough for a “pity Party”, and laziness took over. The result is a seven day hole in the blog; something I swore would never happen… yeah, yeah… Here we pick it up again. And I promise to go back and finish my PR years (after all, there were only two but… loaded!) starting with the next entry and then some postcards from the past.

Seven Days late, but as the old saying goes… “Better Late than Never…”


Doña América and other memories.

I know she has already been mentioned somewhen along this line of sometimes unhinged memories as they relate to moments of my life , but y...